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Can I Sue the Seller if I Discovered a Fault With My House?

Can I Sue the Seller if I Discovered a Fault With My House?

If, after purchasing a home, you discover a defect or fault-particularly one that will be expensive to fix-then you're probably wondering if you can sue the seller. After all, if the sellers knew about the problem, shouldn't they have disclosed it before the sale or simply fixed it themselves?

Who Is Liable?

After discovering a significant problem with your recently purchased home, your first call should be to your real estate attorney. That's because not only will your lawyer be familiar with the real estate laws in your state, but he or she will also be familiar with the sales agreement for the home you purchased.

Depending on the laws in your state, you may be able to sue as many as three parties:

  • The seller: Most states have law requiring home sellers to disclose known defects with a property. Often there's a standard disclosure form that contains a list of questions a seller must answer. (This is an example of New York's Property Disclosure Statement.) A copy of that completed form must then be provided to the home buyer before the sale is completed.
  • The seller's agent: In some states, a seller's real estate agent also has a responsibility to disclose problems the seller told them about, as well as faults that they personally saw. Your real estate lawyer can tell you if the seller's agent had a legal obligation to disclose these defects under your state's laws.
  • Your home inspector: Prior to purchasing a home, it's in the best interest of all home buyers to hire a licensed home inspector to conduct a thorough inspection of the property. (In fact, many purchase offers are contingent on a satisfactory home inspection.) You're relying on the home inspector for his or her professional knowledge and experience, and if the inspector fails to spot a potential problem, you may be able to sue the inspector. Before doing so, your real estate attorney will want to read the inspector's contract and report to see if there were any limits to the inspector's potential liability.

Winning a Lawsuit

Just because you can file a lawsuit against the home seller, the seller's agent or the home inspector doesn't necessarily mean that you'll win in court. That's because it can often be difficult to prove that the defendant knew about a potential problem.

Suppose, for example, the seller failed to disclose that home had termites. How do you establish that the seller knew there were termites? If you learn that a termite company inspected the home shortly before the house was put on the market and found evidence of termite damage, you'd have a strong case. But if you discover termite damage a year after purchasing the home and it is unclear when the infestation began, your case may not be as strong.

Your real estate attorney can offer an honest evaluation of your situation and the strength of a potential case.

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